Personalized Learning

Differentiation in a High School Classroom

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If only differentiation was that easy! Meeting the needs of 150+ high school students can be tough!

What is differentiated instruction?

Differentiated instruction provides many paths to learning. Each path contains three elements: content to learn, the process to get there, and the product, or how students demonstrate learning. It is a blend of whole-class, small group, and individual instruction. The growth mindset ties into differentiated learning in that growth and perseverance are praised. Learning happens when students are challenged just a bit past their level so that all students experience a productive struggle. In a differentiated classroom, a "new sort of fairness is evident" - i.e., students get what they need, whether it be a little more support or something to extend the learning. (Tomlinson, C. 2001).

3 Personalization Myths

Myth #1. Personalized learning means everyone is doing something different. It is good to address learning styles and allow students to work at their own pace, but students should not be working in isolation. Shared learning experiences can deepen understanding. Students can interact with content through a few activities that may begin at various points and have different pacing, while all arriving at the same learning goal.

Myth #2. Personalized learning is always interest-based. While student interest is part of an engaging lesson, it is only one part. Helping students find relevance and be successful can also increase engagement.

Myth #3. Personalized learning is way more work than one-size-fits-all curriculum. Instead of spending time reading a prescribed lesson and making copies, redistribute time to focusing on the needs of your students. Students slowly take more ownership of their learning, which saves teachers time in the long run.

What are Good Rules for Differentiation?

1. Identify the essential knowledge students need to master the learning target.

2. Use formative assessment as a road map to guide instruction.

3. Identify various ways students might demonstrate their learning.

4. Consider what works best for individual students. Check out this student learning inventory.

5. Group students by readiness, interest, or learning styles.

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Eighty percent of differentiation is mind-set; the rest is craft. - Rick Wormeli

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Jennifer Butler

Instructional Partner

Florence High School

France, P. (2015). 3 personalization myths. Retrieved from

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD.